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Youth, politics and election in Malaysia – Firdausi Suffian

The sly and charismatic President Sukarno of Indonesia once said that "beri aku 1,000 orang tua, niscaya akan kucabut semeru dari akarnya, beri aku 10 pemuda niscaya akan kuguncangkan dunia".

This famous quote attempts to exemplify the importance of youths in the country and their contribution to national building. The youths will replace the current leaders; they are the future human capital of the country and will inherit the nation’s pride.

The leaders must nurture, build and educate the younger generation to guarantee the nation’s socio-economic development, unity and prosperity. Political leadership plays a central role to achieve greater good of the nation.

Leaders will not be there for long. It is a natural process that leader needs to pass the leadership baton to future leaders, the youths.

The 13th general election, according to Prime Minister Najib Razak,  is the Mother of All Elections. It was not just for BN to be returned as the government, but also a test to Najib’s popularity among Malaysians.

Once again Barisan National managed to retain power. Sabah and Sarawak remained as kingmakers in the victory of the ruling coalition, despite slight drop in total majority, although in terms of average percentage, Sabah and Sarawak contributed the most to the BN's win.

Pakatan Rakyat won additional seven seats at the central government which now constitute 89 seats for the opposition. In terms of popular votes, PR obtained 50.87%, higher than BN which secured only 47.38% in the election.

Although the election outcome in 2008 was called a "political tsunami" which marked a major swing of votes to opposition, but the BN had led in terms of popular votes, gaining 50.27% over PR which only obtained 46.75%. GE13 was therefore the first time the opposition had higher popular votes than BN. The marginal decrease and increase of votes between BN and PR respectively, denotes that Malaysia's political landscape has changed.

Like any other mature democracy, no political parties could usually command a majority in the Parliament. Hence, post GE-13 shows that the battleground in the political arena is very competitive.

Pundits and political analysts point out that the new political landscape in Malaysia hinges on the emergence of younger generation.
It is claimed that the young voters are likely to assess national and local issues, such as corruption, employment, cost of living, property prices and socio-economic policy, all of which are very important in determining their choice of party.

This happens as a result of urbanisation and modernisation across the states in Malaysia. Hence issues such as race and religion espoused by politicians are not really a line of reasoning for majority of younger generation.

The second factor is the increasing number of young voters on every election. In GE13, 30% of the 13.3 million registered voters were young voters. Furthermore according to the Election Commission, there are 450,000 people turning 21 each year, for this year the EC has registered 2.4 million new voters. This is why without strong support from the youth, the BN, PR and other regional based parties may risk losing power.

Both BN and PR attempt to entice young voters with election campaign bonanza and have rolled out a series of populist measures aimed at gaining support from youths. But how youths are significant in elections remains unclear.

If BN's "Aku Janji" manifesto for youth is appealing, why was there no major swing of young votes to the government? On the other hand, if PR manifesto is winsome, why youth votes could not make them the new government?

I do not dismiss the fact that the youth votes are not important. Also, it is quite unfair for pundits to associate the younger generation with the opposition.

There are no real studies about youth political alignment. Although there is marginal increase of political participation among youth,  the political participation remains small in Malaysia, according to Democratic Citizenship and  Voice of Asia’s Youth.

Interesting findings in their research is that most youths in Malaysia believe they could not influence government policies and their voices are less likely to be heard. This gives rise to the perception that youths are not really being heard.

However, the National Youth Survey 2012 shows that youths in Malaysia might be indifferent to political activities, although in general, they are politically sensitive. They are aware of core government policies, 1Malaysia, Vision 2020 and most of the government transformative programmes related to youths. They also pay attention to the performance of various institutions such as the civil administration, the prime minister, the police and the judiciary.

Political sensitivity comes from an active political discourse in the social media, for instance Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

The National Youth Survey claims that 73% of youths in Malaysia access the Internet every hour and 63% of them believe that the news published or twitted in the social media are somehow reliable.
Furthermore 71% of youths are active users of the social media. One has to note that social media is a new alternative media with the ability to set public agenda. The alternative media do not have power to influence people’s mind but it is a potential tool to present salient issues and what to think about on certain issues.
Thus the social media provide an outlet for political socialisation and mobilisation.

Remember the Suara Rakyat Suara Keramat rally. The opposition pact managed to mobilise the crowd through social media. Although social media present a powerful tool in the political domain, the traditional approach such as ceramahs and meet-the-people sessions are still central, whether in the urban or rural areas.

In GE14, there will be more than 7 million registered young voters, hence youth politics is important.

To some extent, youth vote is a determining factor for future elections. There is a need to educate our younger generation on the noble struggle of politics. It does not mean organising demonstrations, or plead on emotions to attack government policies and make irrelevant criticisms.

To be active in politics mean the youths understand government policies, and the way forward of this nation.

Certainly there is no perfect policy or approach in this world, nor is there a perfect government. It is justified to offer the youth’s alternative opinion, but let the opinion be a constructive argument. Let the critics plead on rationality, not myopic sentiments. - November 14, 2013.

* The writer teaches at the Faculty of Administrative Science and Policy Studies, UiTM Sabah.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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